Critical Race Theory: How Not to Talk About Race

Nation contributor—and former columnist—Patricia J. Williams
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Photos: Harvard\Jason Grow\YouTube

Nation contributor—and former columnist—Patricia J. Williams (above) graduated from Harvard Law School in 1975. It was almost entirely white and almost entirely male, with no tenure-track women on the faculty and only one recently hired Black man, Professor Derrick Bell—now often hailed as the founder of critical race theory.

“Indeed, the very fact of minorities and women appearing in that space at that time often marked us as contrarian upstarts before we even opened our mouths,” she recalls.

Bringing her personal story to bear on the current controversies over critical race theory roiling the country, her new Nation cover story explains:

How Not to Talk About Race

The right wants to convince America that critical race theory is a sinister program of indoctrination. It is a sign of the confusion of this moment that condemning racist language or bullying behavior is seen as the automatic and specific equivalent of being “anti-white.

“For many children who are socialized as not-different, and for the normatively comfortable adults they become, discussion of race remains stunted and infantile, too much like assigning ‘cooties’—loosely undefined yet cruelly specific,” Williams writes. “So you ban sex education in the name of chastity, purity, innocence. You ban talk about race that is inherently ‘divisive.’ But when Americans of different races greet each other as though they had just stepped off a ship in 1492, let’s just say that the division is glaringly already-there. It begs to be addressed.”

Continue reading…

This article appears on the cover of the November 1/8, 2021, edition of The Nation—out now.

Patricia J. Williams is University Professor of Law and Philosophy, and director of Law, Technology and Ethics at Northeastern University.

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